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Diary of a Binge Reader

by Beth Cranford

Hello again, romance lovers! I’m back because I just finished another EPIC binge read, which, of course, I needed to share it with someone. And since my husband is out of the question — that glazed look is not my favorite to be honest, and he really just doesn’t get it, although he tries, bless his heart — that someone is you! Hmm, punny title idea that’ll make sense in a paragraph or two, Someone to Read (My Stream of Consciousness Thoughts About These Books I Am Obsessed With).

Anyway, my latest binge read rant is ready to burst all the way out of me but, before I get started, I need to make something clear, something of which I should probably be mildly ashamed.

I knew going into these books that I was teetering on the edge of a binge read and I DID IT ANYWAY.

Whew, I’m kind of relieved to get that off my chest. And because I have made absolutely no secret of my love for Mary Balogh, it should come as a surprise to literally no one that this binge involved one of her series. My fellow Historical lovers may be aware that the eighth book in her acclaimed Westcott series, Someone to Cherish, is now available and centers around a character who, while being largely absent from the previous books because of his military career, was absolutely central to the overarching story. I was lucky enough to secure an ARC through Netgalley, which of course made my day — and made me think that what I needed most was a re-read the entire series leading up to this book, even though time was not on my side. Especially since I suspected — okay, I knew — that despite all promises made to myself to the contrary, I would not be able to settle into a routine of reading one Westcott for every two-to-three ARC or beta reads I had on the go.

Oh, how right I was to doubt myself.

The Binge Read

For those unfamiliar with the series, allow me a moment to give you a brief overview: After the death of the Earl of Riverdale, the Westcott family is shocked to discover the Earl’s prior marriage—of which they were completely unaware—overlapped with his marriage to the Countess of Riverdale, invalidating it. With the legitimacy of their births stripped, the late Riverdale’s children are further shocked to learn of a half-sibling, raised in an orphanage, unaware of her place as the sole legitimate heir to the Riverdale fortune. The first book in the series, Someone to Love, follows that legitimate heir, Anna Snow, as she learns of her heritage, and becomes accustomed to the changes in her life, with the help of the wider Westcott family. The subsequent books feature the new Earl of Riverdale, Alex, the disinherited Westcott daughters, Camille and Abigail, and the rest of their family, who band together after The Great Disaster to protect their own. Someone to Cherish is Harry Westcott’s story, the man who would’ve been Riverdale had scandal and secrets not befallen his family.

This was, right from the first, a series I loved. I didn’t actually start reading it until shortly after the sixth book had already been released, so when I say I knew that I was susceptible to a binge read of this series, I mean I knew because I’d done it once before. I devoured the first six books when I first read them, enamored by the family dynamics, the absolutely and unexpectedly captivating Duke of Netherby, Avery Archer (he’s something of a dandy; a beautiful, slight male with a deadly aura and a propensity to wear rings upon each finger and elaborately folded neck cloths, who projects a sighing disinterest in everything around him), and the strength the women of this series demonstrated time and again. The writing in this series is smart, the characters likable almost to a fault — and even the unlikable have their charms and their redemptions—and the stories engaging and feel good and so very, very easy to get lost in.

That was my experience with the first readthrough of these books, including a novella and the seventh book, both of which I read when they were released. As it was again this time around, but my second read-through of all except Someone to Cherish, also allowed me to fall in love with the series for new reasons. Well, not entirely new. More like deeper reasons. There’s something to be said about reading a book multiple times, becoming familiar with the protagonists in a way that only a knowledge of what’s to come allows. I already knew I loved Avery and Anna when I started Someone to Love, but after reading their story for a second time, I love and understand them more. The same can be said with Camille and Joel in Someone to Hold, and Alex and Wren in Someone to Wed, both of which I read as soon as humanly possible after finishing the previous book. For the record, I’m talking saying-a-quiet-thank-you-to-the-Kindle-Cloud-for-prompting-me-to-open-the-next-book-immediately-after-the-end-of-the-current-one-before-hitting-that-“Read-Now”-button-and-waiting-maybe-two-full-seconds-before-diving-in fast. Y’all, the cast of Gilmore Girls and The West Wing don’t even talk as fast as I clicked through to read those three books #20YearOldPopCultureReference.

Was I any slower with the subsequent books? Not particularly, although I did manage to find time—albeit reluctantly—to work, feed my kids, make my bed etc. as I reacquainted myself with Viola and Marcel in Someone to Care, Elizabeth and Colin in Someone to Trust, Abigail and Gil in Someone to Honor, Matilda and Charles in Someone to Remember, and Jessica and Gabriel in Someone to Romance. Y’all, if you could see me right now, taking a breather from the rapid-fire, must get my thoughts out typing to put my hands over my heart as I remember how much joy reading these books gave me… *Sighs dramatically*. I’m aware that sounds like hyperbole, but I swear, it’s true. I can type VERY fast. (And I am the type to have actual physical reactions to books, memories, awkward situations, remembered embarrassments and so on.)

And then came Harry and Lydia. As I mentioned above, Harry would have been — and briefly was — the Earl of Riverdale after the death of his father, an event that led him into war with Napoleon, a few memorable cameos in the earlier Westcott books, and a near-death experience that left me feeling a little bereft and a lot desperate for his happily ever after. Lydia, on the other hand, is an entirely new character. The widow of a much-loved vicar who died saving a young boy’s life, she’s setting out to reclaim and rediscover herself, assert her independence when the men in her life would try to coddle and dominate her, and lead a contented, if not entirely happy, life. I can’t be subtle in this situation so let me just go for it: I adored Lydia. Far from perfect, she displayed a strength that she struggled to at times to maintain—having never before had to exercise it — and tried to live her life on her own terms in a world that did not let women do that.

And therein lies one of the things that draws me back to Mary Balogh’s books time and time again; she does not shy away from flawed heroes and heroines, whether that means physically (like several of those from her Survivor’s Club series), mentally, or emotionally. Neither Harry nor Lydia is the perfect specimen of humanity, having lived lives that left them with scars and doubts and trust issues. But together and separately, through smart means and stupid, they worked through those issues and found their way. I couldn’t contain my tears as I read through the final chapters, nor can I now contain my smile as I remember some of my favorite moments. Many of which, I should point out, include the interfering but well-meaning members of the Westcott family.

I don’t regret this binge-read any more than I regretted my last, of Mira Lyn Kelly’s Slayers Hockey series (which means not at all, in case you were wondering). Yes, they are very different in their times and their settings, but they have at least one commonality: they are the very epitome of what I love about romance: strong connections, moments filled with feeling, whether it hurts or humors or heals, and stories that make me forget the world, if only for a moment or twenty, so I can simply enjoy. I can’t ask for any more than that, can I?*

*I totally can. But in this case, I won’t. Because BOOKS, HAPPY, ME, LOVE.

Now Available: Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh

Is love worth the loss of one’s freedom and independence? This is what Mrs. Tavernor must decide in the new novel in the Westcott series from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.

When Harry Westcott lost the title Earl of Riverdale after the discovery of his father’s bigamy, he shipped off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, where he was near-fatally wounded. After a harrowing recovery, the once cheery, light-hearted boy has become a reclusive, somber man. Though Harry insists he enjoys the solitude, he does wonder sometimes if he is lonely.

Lydia Tavernor, recently widowed, dreams of taking a lover. Her marriage to Reverend Isaiah Tavernor was one of service and obedience, and she has secretly enjoyed her freedom since his death. She doesn’t want to shackle herself to another man in marriage, but sometimes, she wonders if she is lonely.

Both are unwilling to face the truth until they find themselves alone together one night, and Lydia surprises even herself with a simple question: “Are you ever lonely?” Harry’s answer leads them down a path neither could ever have imagined…

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Binge Read With Us:

“Sorry to my husband who tried to ask me a question when I was about 89% through Dirty Hookup and I snapped at him ‘shut up, I need to know how this ends.’ Whoopsie.”

“I figured I had six books in six weeks. I could do it easy peasy, taking my time and easing myself back into reading. Famous last words. I was done in a week!”

“Despite the near fire I almost caused . . . I carried on listening until the water was cold and my hands were shriveled prunes. I don’t regret a thing.”

“I’ve never fallen into a book in which I could SO vividly picture every last stone and gargoyle. That is a serious testament to superb writing.”

About Beth

Beth Cranford was born and raised in Australia, but followed her heart (and her husband) to the United States in her late 20s. As the mother of two kids, she’s learned that you can turn anything into a song and that slime does not belong in carpeted areas (or polite society). You can most often find her with her Kindle in hand, listening to Taylor Swift on repeat, or spending way too many hours playing Animal Crossing.

Follow her @BethCranford on B+M Bites.

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